Remember the days when one of the best money-saving travel tips was booking an Airbnb versus a hotel?
Not only were nightly rates almost always far cheaper, but the Airbnbs and hosts themselves often shaped up to be the most memorable aspects of a trip.
These days, staying at an Airbnb rarely involves big savings or friendships with the hosts. For better or for worse, features like self-check-in make it so hosts and guests never even meet. Meanwhile, many listings are not managed by owners, but by corporate property management behemoths - without the convenience of on-site, full-time staff.
And the cost? A June 2022 analysis by US personal finance company NerdWallet looked at 1,000 US Airbnb reservations for 2022 or 2023. Although there's no way to compare the costs directly since every Airbnb is different, some key indicators provide clues as to when Airbnbs are better or worse than a hotel.
In some cases, Airbnb rentals are still a good deal compared to hotels. Other times, they're far from it.
Airbnb is rarely cheaper for short stays
For short stays, Airbnbs are rarely a good deal for two reasons: discounts and cleaning fees.
Savings get bigger with trip length. The nightly rate ($213 / €213) for the average seven-night Airbnb stay was 32 per cent cheaper than a one-night stay ($314 / €314), according to NerdWallet's analysis.
Why are longer stays cheaper? One reason is multi-day discounts. Hosts offer these incentives because they'd prefer having fewer bookings to manage and ensure occupancy.
Another reason is cleaning fees. While not all listings have them, the median cleaning fee is $75 (€75), according to NerdWallet's analysis. Since it's a one-time fee, the cost is reduced by longer stays. A €75 cleaning fee stings more on a one-night stay versus a three-week stay, where it would amount to only about €3.50 per day.
Since hotels typically don't have cleaning fees, travellers staying a night or two might be better off with a hotel if Airbnb cleaning fees are steep.
Airbnbs are more cost-effective for large groups
For solo travellers and couples, Airbnbs are typically more expensive (though NerdWallet's study only looked at "entire place" properties, so people sharing a room or home might still save).
NerdWallet compared the price per head for Airbnbs with a maximum capacity of two adults against a hotel room in the same city. It also compared the cost of an Airbnb with a maximum capacity of six people against the cost to book three hotel rooms (assuming two adults per room).
The average Airbnb for six ($60 / €60 per room) was 33 per cent cheaper than booking three hotel rooms. But the average hotel ($89 / €89) was 29 per cent cheaper than booking an Airbnb for two ($125 / €125).
Other cost factors to consider when booking accommodation
Of course, every traveler's situation is unique, and other costs go into a trip beyond just sticker price. Transportation is a key factor - parking charges, free airport shuttles, and proximity to public transport or attractions could all impact your overall trip cost.
Airbnbs often feature cost-saving utilities like laundry facilities and kitchens, whereas hotels may offer loyalty points, free breakfast, pool access and complimentary activities that could save you paying for outside entertainment.
Then there's the service to consider. At an Airbnb, you might meet a genuine host who can share insider tips or you might not interact with any sort of staff at all. If you prefer to speak to a human - or simply need personal assistance for anything from getting directions to helping clean a mess - a hotel might be a safer bet.
Given the variability, it's impossible to proclaim that Airbnbs are better or worse than hotels. And with hotels reducing housekeeping and room service due to staff shortages, Airbnb's lack of perks is becoming less pronounced.
But if you're booking travel in 2022 under the assumption that Airbnbs are always the best deal, reconsider your strategy.